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Despite Safeguards, 2016 Sees Rise In Heat-Related Police Dog Deaths

Posted in Journalism, and MintPress News

Originally published at MintPress News.

AUSTIN, Texas — High summer temperatures have claimed the lives of 16 police dogs this year, most of which died as a result of being left unattended in sweltering vehicles, according to figures reported by an animal rights organization and a group that tracks canine law enforcement deaths.

Police dog deaths increased from last summer, when 12 dogs died of heat exhaustion.

This year is edging out 2015 as a more dangerous year for police dogs overall. According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, which tracks both human and canine law enforcement deaths in the United States, 28 police dogs have died so far this year. Last year, the group reported the deaths of 27 police dogs.

In addition to a rise in heat-related deaths, this year has also seen a rise in shooting deaths. Eight dogs have died as a result of gunfire in 2016, including two accidental gun deaths, while only four police dogs were shot in all of 2015.

Dog and human health can be endangered in minutes in a hot car. (Click to expand)
Dog and human health can be endangered in minutes in a hot car. (Click to expand)

Katie Arth, a media assistant manager at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, told MintPress News that the organization supports the responsible use of police dogs, despite the risks the animals sometimes face.

“We support police departments and officers who ensure that dogs are considered members of the family and respected members of the force,” she said.

Priscilla Feral, president of the nonprofit animal advocacy organization Friends of Animals, told MintPress that the organization “agonizes over dogs used as police dogs when it puts them in harm’s way, yet there’s little doubt that the dogs are well-cared for during their active work, and after their retirement.”

Heat exhaustion remains a leading cause of death among police dogs, despite years of advocacy by PETA, which raises awareness through letters and posters sent to K-9 handlers. A growing number of K-9 police vehicles are equipped with so-called “hot dog” alarms, which alert officers to rising temperatures. But alarms and air conditioning can fail. Temperatures can reach dangerous levels in minutes in a parked vehicle.

PETA Vice President Daphna Nachminovitch told MintPress:

Dogs should never be left unattended in vehicles, but if police work leaves an officer with no choice but to leave a dog inside a vehicle, it should be equipped with lifesaving systems. However, as we’ve seen this summer, even these high-tech alarms can still malfunction, and it can be deadly when they do.

The following list of deceased police dogs is based on information provided by PETA and the Officer Down Memorial Page:

    • Alachua County, Florida — Robbie died on July 8 after his handler, Deputy Tommy Willcox, left the dog unattended in the back of his vehicle after returning home from a call. Temperature alarms did not go off because the vehicle was turned off.
    • Bellefonte, Pennsylvania Totti, a dog assigned to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, died on July 7 at a veterinary clinic after being left unattended in a vehicle for more than two hours during a training exercise.
    • Cherokee County, Georgia Inca died on June 10 after being left for three hours in an unattended, borrowed police vehicle which was not equipped with a hot dog alarm, while the dog’s handler, Lt. Daniel Peabody, tended to another dog inside his family home. Peabody resigned from the Cherokee County School Police Department and could face charges.
    • Cotulla, Texas — Ledger died on May 29 after being left in a hot car parked outside of a courthouse. High-temperature safeguards in the vehicle failed as temperatures that day reached a high of 94 degrees, which “can send the temperature of a car up to 125 degrees in a matter of 20 minutes,” reported Justin Bourke for KPNX. Ledger’s handler is reportedly under investigation.
    • Falfurrias, Texas — Lazer, a dog working with the Department of Homeland Security, died on June 20. It began showing signs of heat exhaustion during a search for a group of undocumented immigrants, and died after being transported to a veterinary hospital.
    • Fountain County, Indiana Tyson, a county sheriff’s dog, died of heat exhaustion on June 27 following the pursuit of three men that had robbed a Walgreens at gunpoint. Emergency veterinary intervention ultimately proved unsuccessful.
    • Kingman, Arizona — Despite veterinary efforts, Amigo died of complications from heat exhaustion on Aug. 20. The K-9 first became ill while seeking missing hikers during an Aug. 17 search and rescue mission.
    • Madison County, Arkansas Lina, a narcotics dog, died on Sept. 9 after being left unattended in a hot car. “Lina was acquired from donations through business and citizens of Madison County,” noted KNWA.
    • Montgomery County, Illinois Blitz died on July 31 after his handler, Undersheriff Rick Robbins, left him in a vehicle with the air conditioning running. The dog died after the car shut off unexpectedly and an alarm system failed. The officer has said he believed Blitz was in the car for several hours before he was found.
    • Porterville, California — Idol died on June 20 after spending 90 minutes in an unattended vehicle on a day when temperatures reached a high of 99 degrees. The vehicle was equipped with an alarm and air conditioning, but both failed when the engine shut off.
    • Richland Parish, Louisiana — Duke died on June 1 despite veterinary intervention, after his handler, Sheriff’s Deputy John Cummings, discovered the dog near death in his patrol car. Cummings resigned on June 8, rather than face termination.
    • San Juan, Texas — On June 2, Rex died after being left unattended in a vehicle. His handler, Juan Cerillo, Jr., has been suspended without pay pending a charge of cruelty to a non-livestock animal.
    • Stephens County, Oklahoma — Sheriff’s Deputy Matthew Peck left his dog, Bak, unattended in the back of his car for 36 hours, resulting in the dog’s death on Aug. 4. The Stephens County Sheriff’s Office terminated Peck’s employment on Aug 25 and turned the case over to the district attorney.
    • Westchester County, New York — Suki, a narcotics-sniffing dog, died in a K-9 vehicle on May 20 after participating in a traffic stop and drug arrest. Processing of the suspects unexpectedly took several hours, and the vehicle’s heat alarm failed.

Nachminovitch urged K-9 handlers not to depend on technology to keep their animals safe.

“Even with alarms, dogs should be left in cars only as a last resort and must be frequently checked on to prevent horrific deaths in a sweltering, inescapable car,” she concluded.

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